By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
CLINTON — January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and the Franciscan Peace Center is working to educate people in the Clinton area about its perils and prevalence through a “Doorways to Freedom” campaign.
Most people think of human trafficking as a crime that takes place in third world countries, but it’s also happening in Iowa, said Michael Ferjack of the Iowa Attorney General’s office. “Iowa is the perfect hiding place for this crime due to several factors. We have a low per capita presence of law enforcement and we live in the center of the country at the crossroads of Interstate highways 35 and 80.”
Believing that awareness is the first key to prevention, the Franciscan Peace Center has set up a series of “doors” at 22 businesses and nonprofits in Clinton. Each display is unique and features photos and general information about human trafficking. Several feature trafficking survivors from Iowa telling of their experience. Information about warning signs, the hotline number and other educational materials are available at each site.
This is the first year for the door project. The center’s community outreach director, Lori Freudenberg, said businesses were very receptive to agreeing to “house” a door. “We explained that we’re working to educate the public about human trafficking and asked if they would allow us to put a door in their lobby. It helps to come from a smaller town where we know most everyone,” she said.
As defined under U.S. federal law, victims of human trafficking include anyone under 18 who is involved in the sex trade; and adults, who as a result of force, fraud or coercion, are deceived into commercial sex acts and into different forms of labor such as domestic workers held in a home, or farm-workers forced to labor against their will.
The International Labor Organization estimates that globally human trafficking is a $150 billion industry worldwide and there are 20.9 million victims. Of the victims, 68 percent are trapped in forced labor, 26 percent are children with an average age of 13, and 55 percent are women and girls.
Freudenberg said community reception to the door displays “has been remarkable. It was amazing, as we delivered the doors, the number of people we were able to educate at that moment. Many didn’t even know what human trafficking was and certainly didn’t believe it happens right here in Iowa.”
She hopes people will understand that human trafficking does happen locally and that lives can be saved through awareness. “If even one person is saved through this information, we’ll be happy we did this exhibit. … I hope to make advocates out of all of those who ‘read’ our doors!”